Standing out wide at left centre wasn’t exactly the spot Tom Symonds expected to find himself upon his Manly debut. But beggars can’t be choosers.
Sensing the writing was on the wall when his former club, Sydney Roosters, brought in Sonny Bill Williams and then Luke O’Donnell in his preferred second row position, Symonds made the tough call to look elsewhere on the eve of the 2013 kick-off and last Sunday found himself playing his first NRL game since Round 16 last year in place of the injured Steve Matai.
“It was a bit different but I got the chance to play half a game there and I actually really enjoyed it, having a bit of time in the middle again,” Symonds told NRL.com ahead of Saturday’s trip to the Gold Coast.
“I’ve played centre before so it wasn’t too foreign to me and with a few boys injured I might still have to fill in there but to be honest I’m happy to get a spot anywhere. If I’m in the centres I’m happy with that.”
The irony is that Symonds was originally brought in by the Sea Eagles as cover in the forwards given early season injuries to Glenn Stewart and Jason King and the departures of Tony Williams, Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison to rival clubs, but the early signs are that they’ve gained more than they expected.
After scoring two tries in his NSW Cup debut in Round 1, he impressed out wide against Newcastle – setting up Jorge Taufua’s third try with a damaging run – and has spent the past week training in the centres again with Matai still in doubt against the Titans.
“I feel like I’m starting to settle in now,” Symonds said of his new surrounds. “Obviously it was a big change coming in right at the start of the season. The first week was just getting to know everyone and how things are done over here. That’s the hardest thing when you step into training, not knowing all the calls and the structures in the space of a couple of weeks. It takes a bit of time and I still don’t know it all yet but I’m definitely feeling like I’ve got a lot of it down-pat – the basics at least – and we’ll work on things from there.
“But I’m feeling well and truly settled in now. I got last week out of the way and it was a bit of an achievement playing that game so I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now.”
Until he landed at Manly a touch over a fortnight ago, Symonds was about as Roosters as you could get. A Bondi United junior that had risen through the local ranks, he had played 27 games for the tri-colours since debuting in 2009 but when the club went all-out to sign Williams and O’Donnell, he knew his opportunities would be limited.
“It was a tough place to leave having been there for so long but it sort of all came down to opportunity,” he explained. It felt like there was a better opportunity here at Manly.
“Ultimately it came down to my choice. I found that as tough as it was, there was a good opportunity here. I mean, every club has recruits and that’s nothing new. Obviously having Sonny there put someone else in front of me in my position so that was definitely a factor, those two guys coming.
“We had a few chats with a couple of other teams but nothing went as far as it did with Manly obviously and things progressed quite fast with them. I was happy to get over there. I really enjoyed meeting ‘Toovs’ (coach Geoff Toovey) and the staff and like I said before it was a great opportunity at a successful club which was important for me.”
Symonds said the transition had been made easier by the Manly playing group, with Matt Ballin, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran particularly helpful.
“Matt has been really good,” he said. “He came straight up to me when I arrived and made me feel welcome, asked if I needed anything.
“And the coach has told me he just wants me to settle in and get to know how things are done around the place – what they expect and the requirements and expectations each week.
“Kieran and Daly have been helping me out with a lot of the team work so it’s helped me settle in. All the boys have been good though. They like to throw a bit of banter around and I didn’t have any trouble with that at all.”
Still, if last week’s impromptu debut proved a baptism of fire it doesn’t get any easier for him this week. The Gold Coast have impressed in a narrow opening-round loss away to Cronulla and last week’s belting of Canberra, achieved via their right-side combination of Dave Taylor and Jamal Idris which will be ready to throw plenty Symonds’ way.
“Jamal and Dave – they’re a pair of big mountain men so we’ll have to be on to stop those two guys when they’re running at full force,” Symonds said.
“They had a good win on the weekend so their confidence will be high. They’ve got a big pack and some strike weapons so it will be a really tough game for us.”